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Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

#2 “Bob Dylan’s Dream” off his second album The Freewheelin Bob Dylan (1963)

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Similar Feelings

“I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had”

I am not sure exactly the title of the poem, the author who wrote it, or where I was when I read it, but I have a vague recollection of once reading about a poet watching children play while taking a walk one afternoon. If my memory serves me right, the poet looked to these children, and their free-spirited games, with a sense of remorse. He himself longed for those days again, wanting to be a part of world no longer offered in adulthood. His response, naturally, was to write a poem reflecting that moment. Whenever I read it, I recall wondering if I too would one day have these feelings. This of course leads to my choice of a song on Bob Dylan’s second album, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963.)

Just a year after releasing his first album, Bob Dylan wanted to be rid of it. He disliked everything about his first effort, from the songs on the album to how Columbia promoted his work. His main problem with it was that he no longer performed 75% of the songs from the album. By 1963, Bob had committed to the idea of writing and performing his own songs. Perhaps it is the natural reaction, to be self-critical and continue moving towards something new. Being our own worse critics is an easy part of the creative process. Anyways, on some nights Bob would write five songs in a sitting, at other times he would go two weeks without putting pen to paper. Much of the music that came out of him reflected the topical news at the time. News headlines of the American Civil Rights Movement, or the Cuban Missile Crisis would appear in his new songs, although they would be recreated or subverted in new directions. Sometimes the songs would come out satirical, poking fun at the panic of war or bombs, but at other times his songs were significant, using powerful imagery within the lyrics. It is no wonder that master folk singer Pete Seeger declared that Bob Dylan was, “”the most prolific songwriter on the scene,” even when Bob was only 22 years old.

The political songs off of The Freewheelin Bob Dylan, ended up earning Dylan the title, “Spokesmen of a Generation,” a moniker which he would later resent. The album also got him recognition from another groups on the rise, including a quartet from England called The Beatles. But perhaps what it really reflects is a gigantic leap towards what Bob Dylan had been attempting in his musical career. Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” and “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” made it clear that people (mainly the youth) were interested in hearing songs about the political un-rest that surrounded them. He also sang interesting love songs, such as “Girl from the North Country, “ and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” These unconventional songs likely dealt with Suze, the girl who is wrapped around his arm on the album cover. She had decided to study art in Italy for semester, leaving Dylan alone with just his thoughts and a blank piece of paper throughout the recording of Freewheelin’. It is important to acknowledge that instead of writing about holding hands, and summer moons that hung in the night clouds, Dylan spoke of his truthful feelings, with an approach that was at once straightforward and partly obscured. And just like that, Bob Dylan was already beginning to change the face of music forever.

The song that interests me more than the others though is a hidden gem titled, “Bob Dylan’s Dream.”  With nostalgia as its primary focus, Dylan sings a song dedicated to the friends of his youth and the fun they had growing up. Loosely based on an English traditional folk song “Lady Franklin’s Lament,” the song opens with Dylan telling of a dream he experienced while riding a train. What develops throughout the song however is two-fold; it is both a reflection of his past and understanding of his future. The structure is fairly simple, with just a guitar and harmonica to accompany his lyrics. The poignancy of the song is extraordinary, well at least to me.

“Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside”

While growing up my family and I moved around a good amount. By the time I reached 5th grade in Ohio, I had already lived in Florida, Louisiana, and Nebraska. My father, being the hard worker and professional businessman that he is, quickly moved his way up through his company’s corporate ladder. So it was no surprise that we would get called to Akron, Ohio, the capital of the tire and rubber industry in the early 1990s. I ended up attending Northwood Elementary, less than half a mile from our new house in the Bob-O-Link subdivision. There, like so many of the places I had lived before, I had to make new friends, and learn a completely new set of social norms. Luckily for me, although I was pretty geeky throughout my years in North Canton, I managed to befriend other kids in the neighborhood and at school. Thus began my glorious coming of age sequence (if this were a movie). As I sit here, listening to Freewheelin’ in the background, I think back over all those years. I remember (among various other events) sledding at Arrowhead golf course, wasting hours at Belden Village, cliff jumping at the rock quarries, skiing at Boston Mills, spending time at the North Canton YMCA, May Fiesta, Dance Plus, art class, Dogwood pool, Memorial stadium, Apples grocery, Ro’s ice cream, the Chicken Manor, Quonset Hut, Trivium coffee shop, and a thousand other places and stories. (One of the reasons this post has taken me so long is that I began to write out a memory from each of these places, but I am not trying to create a novel out of this yet.) With each of these above-mentioned memories, a special time and significance has been placed in my head for the people that were there and the experience of it all.

 

“We never thought we could ever get old”

Throughout my years in Ohio, I never did think about growing old. I guess I did develop into my own identity there (musically at the very least,) but the idea that I would ever be 32 years old and sitting behind a computer at a coffee shop in Nashville never really appeared as a reality. I believe that most of my friends and I back then lived in the present, which maybe is the way all teenagers think. As my very intelligent and thoughtful girlfriend pointed out recently, perhaps what we see as we reflect on our past is a sense of “timelessness.” I don’t think that it would be going for too much of a stretch to say that Bob Dylan might have been seeking the same idea through his music. Without even recognizing what we were trying to achieve in our childhoods and teenage years, my friends and I pulled from the ether of life a unique story that was wholly our own experience. Also, with the benefit of hindsight, we have the ability to focus on the good times and exciting moments. I guess there may have been rough patches along the way too, and maybe even moreso for friends of some mine. Realizing this makes me eternally thankful for all that my parents gave me during that time. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the reason my life has always had a feeling of balance is due to their efforts in raising me.

Now back to the song. If I, like Dylan says, was given the opportunity to go back to that time where kids can be kids, I am not sure if I would put down the $10,000 dollars (or any amount of money) to recapture that time. For as thankful that I am of that time and place, I believe that right here and now might be my favorite time to experience life. I love that I can still keep up with all of the people I crossed paths with, from the cornfields of Nebraska, to the hallways of Hoover High School, and everywhere in between. I feel as if I live in a universe that Charles Dickens (or any great novelist) has created, where fascinating characters and events all intertwine with one another, and the culmination of it all is my life. Perhaps that is the reason why I have such a desire to be a writer?

In my research for this post, I went on an internet searching hunt for the poem that I referenced at the beginning of this piece. After searching through a list of 20 or so poems (including “Jabberwockey” by Louis Carroll, “Frost at Midnight” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth,) I came to realize that my memory of that poem may best fit with all those other “timeless” events of my life. And to that moment in my life that I will never truly recapute, and all the rest, I am grateful.

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*Author’s note: A few years back I attempted this concept, but with little success. The idea was relatively simple, to listen to each of Bob Dylan’s albums in chronological order (as they were released), reflect, and then write about the whole experience. Truthfully, I am not going to stray far from the original idea, except instead writing about an entire album each week, I will only be writing about one (or maybe two) key tracks from the albums. After the introspection I will then turn to this blog and talk about what I learn from the music each week. I hope you enjoy what follows, and I will try my best not to keep it too Dylan-centric.

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#1 “Song to Woody” off his first album Bob Dylan (1962)

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My story and His

 

“I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down”

I discovered Bob Dylan during my junior year at Hoover High school in North Canton, Ohio. It happened in my English class with a standard assignment to read a biography from the library, write a two-page report, and then give a short one minute speech about our subject. Simple stuff really, and had I been any kind of average student, I should have been able to complete the requirements with ease. But per usual I took the easy way out. I had picked up a short Dylan biography from the public library, but when it came to the night before the due date of the project, I ended up just reading the back cover of the book and a short two paragraph summary on his life from the 1970’s encyclopedia in my house. My (barely) page and half paper and subsequent awful 35 second presentation was filled with about 20% fact and 80 % fabrication. Surprisingly enough my teacher saw right through it.

 

Turns out my teacher was a bit of Dylan fanatic himself, and therefore my lack-luster efforts not only insulted him as a teacher but on a much more personal level, as a Dylan fan. I was forced to not only redo the essay, but I also had to present my findings once again to my peers, thus illustrating how much of a liar I had been. So this time I actually did the assignment right, I picked up the actual biography of the man and I read it from cover to cover. I also decided to give his music a chance as well, and at the Quonset Hut (a local record store) I bought the cassette of “The Times They Are A-Changin.” To say that moment changed my life would be a slight understatement.

 

Up until the moment that I discovered Bob Dylan, my musical world really only consisted of two major components: the oldies radio station of northeastern Ohio and Led Zeppelin. The oldies music was thanks to my dad, who still to this day has an uncanny ability to remember the names of almost all the one-hit wonders between 1955 and 1965 (especially if it was an old soul song.) Zeppelin on the other hand came from a mixture of friends and teenage angst, all in the hopes that our loud Rock N’ Roll music would represent the soundtrack to our rebellious ways. I am fairly certain that all of suburban America in the mid 90’s followed this same design, unless of course you feel under the pressure of grunge music. Anyway, I listened to so much Led Zeppelin in high school that I can still tell you almost anything about their music. For example did you know that ‘Achilles Last Stand’ is the 1st song on the album Presence, and that the song ‘Houses of the Holy’ does not actually appear of the album with the same name, but is actually the 4th track disc one on Physical Graffiti. I did not even have to look that stuff up! Bob Dylan thankfully came along and saved me from a musical path that would have eventually landed me in the world of heavy metal, the appropriately named “butt-rock,” or perhaps even the scarier world of “progressive rock.”

 

“I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Hear paupers and peasants and princes and kings”

            Dylan’s music offered up a new world to me, one filled with lyrics that made me think and visual imagery that painted a new portrait of the world that I lived in. His voice was something new to me as well. Although most people I knew found it rough and unharmonious, I heard something raw and captivating. His music was minimal, torn down to its simplest roots. All that truly mattered was what was being said, and maybe more importantly what you yourself took away from the song.

 

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“Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny old world that’s comin’ along”

 Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in January of 1961, and he only had one mission to fulfill. He simply wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. To make a long story short (read his autobiography Chronicles to get a better picture of his life in the East Village in 1961), Bob Dylan quickly made a name for himself as an up and coming folk musician.

            He ended up meeting the right people, which one day landed him in a studio meeting with Columbia Records A&R Director, John Hammond. His covers of standard folk songs were good (copies of what everyone else was doing at the time), but his original songs absolutely knocked them out. It is reported that he played “Blowing in the Wind,” and that by the end of the 1st verse, Columbia was ready to sign him. He was Columbia Records first folk artist, and for his first album they wanted him to follow his folk roots and record a set of standard covers, such as “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Bob also recorded one original song in that session, a tribute to his hero and inspiration called, “Song to Woody.” Whether he ever performed it for Woody himself when Dylan would go and visit him at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital is unknown. But what is important about this is that Dylan got a chance to honor someone who was important to him. Like so many of his songs, Dylan says that this one was something he “had to write.” And I for one am glad that he did.

 

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Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know

All the things I’m sayin’ and many times more

I’m singin every song but I can’t sing enough

‘Cause there’s not many men done the things that you done

 

My final thoughts over this song, and Bob Dylan’s first album are nothing grandiose or life changing. I see Bob Dylan in the same light that he looked at Woody Guthrie, as an inspirational figure. Bob Dylan has taught me a great amount throughout the past 15 years of my life, both through his music and through his own personal highs and lows. Just like all of us, he is not a perfect human being. In my opinion, he is a humble artist who has done well with the gifts that God gave him, in particular writing lyrics that go deep within our souls and help us make sense of the world. I probably will not ever write a song myself as a tribute to Bob Dylan, but perhaps this series is my way of saying thanks.

Thanks for reading.

NEXT WEEK: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

 

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Almost three years ago I strolled down Court St. in Brooklyn, NY to spend the day at the Tea Lounge and use their free wifi to send off some resumes to various corporations in the hope of landing some summertime employment. It was my second summer to be living in New York, and in the spur of a moment and basic boredom of filling out online applications I decided to create a blog. Here is the very first post I created, in all its sad, poorly written glory. LINK.

It has always been called The Western Wind, that was easy enough to decide. The purpose of my blog, however, well that has always been a bit of mystery to me. I guess I have wanted to share a bit of my life with whoever was interested enough to read what I had to share. Then again, I have never been one to reveal too much of the nitty-gritty of my inner thoughts and emotions. So basically I have kept most of what I have had to say on the surface level, and I am perfectly fine with that.

And so here I am writing my 250th blog post, and once again I am thinking about my return to writing. It is amazing to me how much I have grown, evolved, and all the events that I have gone through in this short period of time. I also would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has ever taken the time out of their day to read my random musings on life, and if you returned to read even more after that first visit, you are the reason I have kept writing.

Now I am heading into a new world of writing. I have ideas for short stories, novels, long epic adventures, graphic novels, screen plays, and everything in between. I also have big ideas for this blog too, ones that hopefully will even dive a bit deeper beneath surface level of my skin. What I need to do is just sit down and focus on these written words a little more, and hopefully that is what will be occurring soon enough.

It may be a good while, maybe a few years even, before I hit the 500th blog post. But hopefully all good things will come to those who wait.

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Don’t ask me why, but I have been in a Shakespeare mood lately. It probably comes from the sole poster that I have hanging up in my classroom, which is a picture of ol’ William Shakespeare himself and a group of all the various phrases that he came up with in his life. The mood might also be the direct result of recently watching a Canadian based television show that revolves around a Shakespearean company trying their best to perform Hamlet despite a growing list of problems. The show is called “Slings and Arrows,” which is actually a pretty good name seeing how it comes from Hamlet’s famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy. It is actually quite entertaining as well, and it is suggested for anyone who is a fan of the famous bard, or has ever acted on stage. I fall under both categories.

In my final year as an undergraduate student I participated in my university’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The entire process, and the ‘complete works of Shakespeare class’ that I took during the same semester, gave me an appreciation for the author that I never understood before. His work is the key example that a good story must contain moral themes over anything else, and through those moral themes we see the characters make decisions. Some fail in life, others achieve their dreams, and a good amount of the them die off in the end, but all of them are participating in some way to what is happening in the play. Greed, lust, revenge, love, power… each one of these themes Shakespeare attacked with fervor. You know, William Faulkner did the same thing in his writing, and he even stole a line from Shakespeare for the title of his most popular book, The Sound and Fury.

And perhaps that is why I am in a Shakespeare mood once again, I think that I have realized that I want to start moving more towards a personalized world where I am participating in what is happening around me. I want to try my best to find that raw element, much like performing on stage, where both anything can happen and everyone with me is moving towards a projected goal. Either that, or I want to at least have it in my own writing again. At least that is what this round of studying the words of Shakespeare has taught me.

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Through writing my own blog I have become accustomed to reading tons of others written ideas via the web. From various friends at East Nasty to others that I have found through comments left on different websites, I enjoy discovering new people and hearing their ideas in the first person. In a sense, these blogs that we create are our public diaries. Now, some of us may give a little more raw emotion than others (read Annie Parsons for that), while the rest of us put up our little ideas and observations for the rest of you to read, secretly hoping that you the audience will enjoy what we have to say.

What I have learned so far from my own experience is that humorous self-deprecation is always appreciated (such as my Retro Picture Fridays), photos seem to help illustrate a story, and many people enjoy reading book reviews. I myself always enjoy hearing people’s unique voices coming through what they write. The other aspect I enjoy about reading other peoples’ blogs is to see just how creative they can be with what they have to say in telling the story of their life.

Recently I have been following a blog from a girl in New York City called Diary 29. Her idea was to document every day of her 29th year, starting all the way back in July 29th, 2009. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but extremely creative and well shot, this girl has captured her life in a way that allows us to experience it with her. Not only do I suggest you take a look at it by clicking the link above, I recommend you go all the way back to the beginning and catch yourself up with her life throughout this last year.

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On Writing: an update

In my continuous quest to write and read about others writers, I stumbled across this article  that features “Rules for Writing Fiction,” given by some of the biggest authors today. Jonathan Frazen offers up some pretty uplifting thoughts (he usually can be a little glum) by saying “You see more sitting still than chasing after.” Esther Freud gives out the simple piece of advice “Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.” On a similar note, Al Kennedy said “Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.”

All really great advice, but the reason I found the article in the first place was that Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite writers) was interviewed for the piece. Gaiman said two pieces of advice that I feel work with both my own writing career and the way I pursue my own life. In the first quote he said, “Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon.” In second quote he advised, “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like (with the story.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best as you can.”

I am starting to think that I see writer’s as the philosophers of our time. But even though I read all of these author’s “rules,” perhaps the biggest rule is to follow what our own gut is telling us. I truly believe that the major key in writing is to sit down and put words on a page, because these ideas will not write themselves out.

My writing since the New Year has been good in sporadic bursts, but nothing to keep me moving along towards completing anything specific. And in that lays the problem. I am hoping that by writing this blog post and reading the inspiring words of those who have found success in writing, I too can begin disciplining myself to write more often, work towards completing ideas, and not to seek perfection.

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As I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR yesterday (yes that is what I do at work), I heard an interesting piece about Smith Magazine and their efforts to publish peoples’ six-word biographies. The history behind this legend is that Ernest Hemingway was once asked in a bar to write a story in six words. He thought for a moment and said, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Now this magazine has gone around to both famous people and non-famous people to ask them to do the same, only to make their six-words autobiographical. Here is a random sampling of some of the examples they gave:

Alzheimer’s: meeting new people every day. By Phil Skversky

I picked passion. Now I’m poor. By Kathleen E. Whitlock

So would you believe me anyway? By James Frey

Anyway, the whole concept got me thinking. To be honest, I usually find myself writing these long diatribes about life, thoughts, history, and a thousand other topics, and I rarely ever think about how to just say things in a concise way. My graduate professors used to harp on this fact on almost every single paper that I turned in to them. What if I had just turned in my analysis on certain historical figures in little six-word sentences, like this:

Crazy, Indian killing, cheese loving, President. By Andrew Jackson

God, are you there, it’s Joan? By Joan of Arc

Okay, maybe not. But the whole idea still got me thinking about what my own six-word biography might be. So far, I have come up with four of them, which are listed below. It is actually a fun exercise to try and shape everything about yourself down to so few words. I recommend, if you read this blog, to join in the fun and leave your own six-word biography in the comments section below.

Learn it, teach it, live it.

Wore a Speedo, no longer shy.

Living in the South, not red.

Drew Jones Part Two: Electric Boogaloo.

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